Widely considered to be one of the finest private fine presses in American history, the Elston Press achieved great notoriety for such a short operating period (just a little over four to five years). To the current day, it is a press that is very well thought of, but widely overlooked by historians of the printed word, seemingly for the limited amount of time that it ran.
In actual fact, the Elston Press (instituted by husband and wife team Clark Conwell and the artist Helen Marguerite O’Kane) was one of the foremost interpreters of the William Morris Arts and Crafts Movement, incorporating the Kelmscott ‘sensuous and sumptuous’ style of printing, with elaborate woodcut prints and very detailed typographic designs. Following the Kelmscott tradition, the Elston Press produced a number of William Morris’s short pieces, both individually and collectively, as well as reproductions of Shelley, Milton, and Keats in truly wonderful editions.
For the collector of the fine presses, the Elston Press is a wonderful way to link and to analyze the spread of Arts and Crafts printing from Britain to America, offering a snapshot of how the tradition sought to preserve tradition, even in the face of more experimental printing techniques at the time. Some of the best works of the Elston would have to be the Five Arthurian Poems (1902) by William Morris, set in the Kelmscott style. A good edition of this rather rare work would be worth somewhere in the region of £350.
One of the barriers to collecting the Elston is the fact that not many copies were ever printed, but those that were had a great acclaim and were snapped up into private collections rather quickly. Those that do become available are often mis-identified as to their true value – thus making them relatively cheap, but rare to find. Consider investing in Keats’ Endymion (1902) by Elston for a mere $300, or, should you ever find a copy, House of Life by Dante Rossetti!
Pope, Alexander. Rape of the Lock. Elston Press (1902). 160 copies on handmade paper
Herrick, Robert. Poems. Elston Press (1903). 260 copies